How The OAS Charter Was Violated

Canada recently expressed its intention of joining the Organization of American States, and thus its recognition of the obligations of members under the charter of that organization. One member, the United States, has by its invasion of Panama, clearly violated its undertakings under that charter, in particular according to the following articles:

3(g): ‘Controversies of an international charter arising from two or more American States shall be settled by peaceful procedures.’

18: ‘No State or group of States has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason, whatsoever, into the internal or external affairs of any other State. The foregoing principle prohibits not only armed force but also any other form of interference or attempted threat against the personality of the State …’

20: ‘The territory of a State is inviolable; it may not be the object, even temporarily, of military occupation or of any other measures of force taken by another State, directly or indirectly on any grounds whatseover.’

The modalities for addressing the ‘Pacific Settlement of Disputes’ are laid out in Chapter V of the charter and include arbitration and judicial settlement. There is provision (Article 56) for special sessions of the General Assembly, called by the Permanent Council, and for meetings of consultation of ministers of foreign affairs, similarly initiated (Article 59). Any member State may initiate such procedures.

Thus mechanisms were clearly in place under the charter for the US to seek peaceful resolution of any grievance it may have had against Panama. It chose instead to use its military power to subvert the clear intentions of the charter to seek peaceful solutions to problems between American States.

In the debate that raged about our joining the OAS, those against joining often claimed that it would put Canada into the position of becoming a supporter of the US policy clearly unlawful and oppressive, and ill-regarded by most Canadians. The alternative view was that Canada could act as an important counter-balance to US interventionism. Here, very quickly, we have a clear test between these positions. Canada’s initial response to this hemispheric crisis have been quite discouraging, expressing as they have an ‘understanding’ for yet another act of international lawlessness. This is not what we expect of the Canadian Government.

Eric Fawcett, Professor of Physics
L. Terrell Gardner, Professor of Mathematics
John Valleau, Professor of Chemistry
University of Toronto

The above was a letter in the Guardian Weekly, January 21, 1990. The letter was based on an earlier letter (December 27, 1989) addressed to the Rt. Hon. Joseph Clark, Minister of State for External Affairs with six signatures. Lack of a reply to the December letter led to a reminder note to Mr. Clark in March 1990. Unfortunately the response which was finally received (dated May 8) referred to Article 51 of the UN Charter which, in addition to Article 21 of the Charter of the OAS ‘permits states to use force in self-defence.’ What External Affairs Minister Clark is referring to here relates to the following (quoted from his letter):

In December 1989, immediately prior to the United States’ military action, the Panamanian National Assembly declared the country to be in a ‘state of war’ with the United States. An off-duty American military officer was killed by members of the Panamanian Defence Forces, and families of other American Servicemen received threats. The lives of American citizens who were stationed in Panama by right of treaty were demonstrated to be in jeopardy. It was apparent that all reasonable and extraordinary diplomatic efforts to negotiate asolution to the crisis in Panama had failed.

Also –

Considering the aggression displayed by the regime of General Noriega before December 20, 1989, the Government of Canada accepted the United States’ Government’s explanation of the need to resort to force and expressed regret that the situation has deteriorated to the extent that force was required. We acknowledged that the use of force presented a dangerous precedent, but recognized that the situation in Panama prior to the United States’ intervention was unique.

Well, there we have the explanation of the Canadian Government’s position. It is, of course, easy to appreciate the profound threat a power like Panama would constitute to the safety of the United States.

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